Ikigai by Sebastian Marshall

July 21, 2014

I know that 2014 is far from over, but Ikigai by Sebastian Marshall is the greatest book I've read in 2014. I first heard of Sebastian and Ikigai from Niall Doherty's blog, particularly from a great interview that Niall conducted with Sebastian. I put Ikigai on my wish list--but it was only released as an ebook, and I heavily prioritize any book I can get a physical copy of. It lay forgotten for months.

Finally, Syed insisted I read it and gifted it to me, and I dove right in. Wow. Although Ikigai is poorly edited because it's a blog-to-book, there's a subtle genius about the ordering of each essay that makes the book so incredibly impactful. Sebastian is an amazing writer in that he has a gift for synthesis that the layman can understand. There's often actionable reflections which connect examples from the most unrelated parts of history.

If you read the exact essays in the exact order that Ikigai has on his blog, it wouldn't have the same impact that reading Ikigai would. I went ahead and printed out Ikigai so that I could closely emulate the paperback process, and I have flags and notes absolutely everywhere. The first half of the book is nearly broken from how many times I pull it out, reference it, and stuff it with even more notes and flags.

I began this book back in January, and I just finished this month, July. This book makes you stop and think. You often need time to act on what Sebastian says before you feel you have permission to move forward. In a lot of negative reviews I've read, people seem to really love the first chapter, and then lose track with the rest. That's because they tried to read it like it was any other book, where you don't have to stop, reflect, think, and act. If you're new to the realm of attempting to achieve greatness, the first chapter may be the most impactful to you right now, but only when the first chapter seems trivial to you do you see how valuable the later stuff is.

Ikigai is a guide to growth with the end goal of greatness. It makes you question everything you've ever been told, coming from a very relatable person. Sebastian came from a lower middle-class family, ended up dropping out of high school and college after leaving home at 16, and he now primarily works on a non-profit called GiveGetWin.

The thing is, although Sebastian is admirable and far ahead of most of the readers, he didn't come from a background that would allow you to say, "Of course Sebastian is admirable, he had [genetics, money, etc.] to put him to where he is now." Sebastian is admirable because of his own choices, effort, and output. No one could possibly give an excuse as to why they can't be like Sebastian, as long as they choose to pursue greatness.

The book serves as a very nice introduction to Sebastian Marshall's daily blog, by showcasing a wide range of topics and formats that he often writes in. After reading the book, you'll probably subscribe to the blog, because Ikigai was published in 2011. There's 3 years of post-Ikigai insights and writing to peruse through.

Who is Ikigai for? I think it's for anyone who wants to achieve great things. Even if it's hushed up inside of you and you think that you're not capable of greatness because you missed your chance or you have some sort of disability (eg. "not smart enough"). As long as you're willing to give Ikigai a chance and walk in there with an open mind as Sebastian Marshall tears apart your pre-conceptions and widens your horizons to a point where it's frightening, I think you'll love it.

If you're a nature over nurture type of person, or you're just looking to get validation for your pre-conceived ideas, you'll get unnecessarily mad multiple times during the book, so just avoid it altogether. Ikigai will make you uncomfortable again and again, and that's the genius of it.

I highly recommend reading Ikigai and Sebastian Marshall's work in general. It's had a major impact on me personally and the people I've introduced it to, as well. If you do read it and want to discuss, I am eager and willing. A lot of people tend to get very different insights from the book, and it's interesting to compare and see a new perspective.

Favorite Essays from Ikigai

This is in order of their appearance in the book.


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